Wandering with my eyes and heart open, searching for pieces to add to my own personal big picture.

Tag: communication skills

Relationship Problems: You Need the Right Tools to Repair Them

Do you solve your relationship problems with the wrong tools? I frequently do. It’s reactionary. I sense an issue and immediately reach toward the nearest tool. What can I do instead? Wait. Listen. And communicate. Sometimes things just need time.

Relationship problems quote on a desert background.

“The trouble that broke up the Gordon Winships seemed to me, at first, as minor a problem as frost on a window-pane. Another day, a touch of sun, and it would be gone.

The Breaking up of the Winships by James Thurber

Imagine getting up one cold and wet winter workday morning. You come downstairs into the kitchen for a hot cup of coffee first thing. Thank god for coffee pots with timers! Make some toast, drink your coffee, while you stare out the window. Man, it looks cold out there. You glance at the clock, ugg…I better get moving.

Showered, shaved, and “dressed for success,” you grab your car keys as you open the front door and take that first step into the frosty air, only to find the car windshield covered in a heavy frost.

“I can’t drive it like this! What can I do?!”

You grab a hammer from the side of the yard where you were working on the fence over the weekend, walk back to the car and smash the windshield in, gummy tempered glass shards cascade down inside the car, covering the dashboard and seats with a glittery mess. You wipe it off with a mittened hand, letting loose a satisfied sigh.

“That’s better. I can see through it now.”

Only you can’t. There’s a reason that cars have windshields. By the time you get to work, you’re windblown and covered in dirt and ice.

No one in their right mind would do that. We all know that we’d wait for the sun to warm it if we had time, use the windshield wipers to clear it away, or get out the ice scraper in those colder climates where I still can’t believe people actually live. There is a myriad of logical ways to clear the frost and still have the comfortable use of your vehicle.

And yet that’s how we try to solve our relationship problems every day.

An old co-worker that used to like and comment on all your social media posts. A friend that used to call you every week for coffee. A lover that always brought a gift when he came to visit. Your partner seems to not be as excited to see you when you come to bed. Instead of having the patience to wait for a mood or situation to pass, instead of looking into the why and solving the mystery, we break the windshield and attempt to keep driving.

Communication is what’s missing from our relationships.

We all feel and react as if we are operating completely alone in this world. Each of us walking around in our own bubble of reality, believing that the beings that move in and out of our lives are simple non-playing characters in our game. What if we didn’t?

What if, instead, we began to take a breath and wait at first? We could observe, journal our thoughts for a bit. Maybe we’d find it was us that had brought on the frost. Our bad mood or busy schedule has made it difficult for our relationship to go as it had in the past. That can change. Maybe the other person is going through something. We could ask, take the initiative to spend some quality time finding what’s going on.

“I’ve noticed,” you say. “Is there something wrong? Is there something I could do?” And then you listen and respond.

We need our windshields intact to use our vehicles well, to get where we are going. We need our relationships the same way. Sure, we can survive without them, but it’s much more comfortable and safer if we have those people in our lives. Let’s learn to communicate instead of just breaking the windshield.

This book was filled was some wonderful short stories and memoir pieces that sparked my creativity and inspired my thinking. Want to read more? Go back to my first post about it, “The Thurber Carnival” by James Thurber.

If you want to read more about him and his work, check out his website James Thurber.org.

A Walking Meditation with a Friend Invites Our Minds to Slow Down

The clouds of a storm being pushed through the pass and spreading out over the desert. Like the walking meditation, the wide open space slows the storm down.
A storm being pushed through the pass and spreading out over the desert.

When you think of a walking meditation, you probably think of being alone with your thoughts, quiet contemplation, and frequent stops to just take a deep breath. Mine are something quite different.

I’m a noticer. Go for a walk with me anywhere and you’ll see it. Even in my own neighborhood, I walk along excitedly pointing out plants, animals, clouds, and…ideas. When I have things on my mind, which is always, walking helps me sort it out.

I don’t like to walk alone.

It’s the talking that I need, getting out of the metal loop. I need that the other human that will listen and bounce things back at me.

Yesterday I walked with a friend. We took “the longer route” around the neighborhood. I had things to sort out, conflict that need to be looked at and resolved.

We headed north down the dirt road. I pointed out the place where it floods every time it rains a lot, the kind of mud that you can’t drive through because the tires slip every which way in it when you attempt to climb the driveway. And it reminded me of the track my sons raced at that had that terrible river silt mud that would slip out from under your feet or get so deep it would suck your shoes off.

We met the dogs at the end of the road and I predicted their behavior. The one leaping and barking like she’ll eat you. Rottweilers seem so vicious behind a fence, like Cerberus guarding the gates of hell, until you’re invited inside, and they commence to loving you. The older Australian Shepard runs the length of the fence, chases her tail, runs back, chases again, barking the whole time. The two will get into skirmishes about who is doing a better job and chasing off the intruders, while two goats stand watching and wondering what all the excitement is about.

Making another turn, we find the abandoned razor scooter that has been laying there for several years. I still wonder how it got there. It’s a dirt road full of sandy ruts, not the place some kid would be riding it, accidently leaving it behind.

Dogs bark behind every fence we pass, rural alarm dogs. They warn us that someone is approaching the house, but it’s usually coyotes they are barking at. After a while, every owner knows the different barks. The visitor at the door, delivery truck, large bird, invading dog, coyote, all their barks are distinct. They’ve been doing that job long before surveillance cameras.

We keep walking and talking.

When one part of my brain is busy keeping my feet going in one direction, noticing and identifying all the mundane things around me, another part of me begins to relax and open up. Then I start to talk, ask questions, and listen to answers. My emotions take a slower, more regulated pace so that I can identify them and sort them out, then I can begin to respond instead of react to the things I’m feeling.

It’s a long walking meditation where the good stuff starts to happen.

The same part of me that makes me jump from the car screaming “Real prairie dogs!” is the same part that makes me scream, “You’re not the boss of me!” and “This is the worst day ever!”

Most people don’t tell you to tone your joyous reactions down. Some do, trust me. I’ve heard them. “You’re making us look bad, Michelle. Can’t you settle down?” “Try not to be too enthusiastic. It’s hard to keep up.” They are few and far between, but I know they are still out there. I see them at the grocery store when my sons and I are getting loud about the cost of an item or that there are no Vege Tables (more like Vege Stacks, my son says).

Almost anyone will tell you tone down your anger, frustration, or sadness.

They don’t want to see that part of you. And why is that? Why do we label one emotion as good and the other as bad? Why can’t I say, “I’m sad today and the whole world sucks ass!” without someone saying, “Don’t act like that!”?

I feel like I’ve spent my whole life being told that some emotions are negative and should be avoided. The result of that has been me not knowing what to do with those emotions. Like a small child with no place for the big emotions to go, I end up having a tantrum, yelling, and looking for ways to hurt others the same way I’m hurting.

“I need attention! Help me with this feeling!” I feel myself yelling in my head. What I get in return is a time-out. I’m left alone to deal with those feelings, and nothing gets resolved. I only hurt in quiet or lash out in anger for being a human being.

I don’t blame the people around me for doing it. We don’t know any other way. This is the way we raise our children, and this is the adult behavior we get from it. You end up being good at being alone with your “bad” feelings, avoid them, or start using coping mechanisms to deal with it. None of them are healthy.

Raising my own children through Peaceful Parenting methods (and I can hear people that know me laughing at ME using the word “peaceful”) helped me notice where I lacked in relating to other people. Finding Radical Unschooling, helped me learn new ways of learning. Both approaches to raising children have changed how I develop my adult relationships.

Michelle, you’re doing it again. What does this have to do with going for a walk with a friend?

Everything! Walking with my family is the way we made time and space for the big emotions that lead to the deep conversations and connections. The longer and easier the walk the better. Now that my children are grown and on their own, I’m more focused on my adult relationships and that’s where the walking meditation comes in.

I’ve been doing it for years, but this past weekend is when I noticed the connection. We had a lot on our minds to talk about but never found the time. We’re always doing something or going somewhere. I instinctively asked for a long walk and while we were walking, it dawned on me what was happening and now I can use the process deliberately.

When I ask a friend to go hiking with me, I’m asking them to make time and space for connection. I’m saying, “Let’s talk. I know we all have things we need to get off our minds.” It’s better than a cup of coffee or a few beers. It’s focused “us” time with a bonus of exercise!

Hot Tip: If there’s some reason you can’t walk; weather, health, etc., try a driving tour. It works the same way.

Anger Management

“We both know you only get mad when you know you’re wrong.”

Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

That’s not true!

Wait. Maybe?

Hold on a minute. (searches through recent arguments) Dammit.

The last argument I started was over closing windows. Yes, you read that right. My husband had the audacity to close the windows and I proceeded to lose my mind. I wasn’t wrong to want the windows open. I wasn’t wrong to be irritated by his response. I was wrong to jump on him about it and then continue a screaming rant about how he ALWAYS does things like this. That’s actually what I was losing my mind about, the fact that I had jumped to conclusions and escalated a battle…again.

When I get really mad, I’m 99% mad at myself. I can’t seem to stop the spiral downward once it starts. I feel the feeling, think the thoughts…and then the words start pouring out before I can stop them. Then I feel like I have to fight to prove why I’m right, to justify my outburst.

In the past, this behavior has gotten way out of control. I wish someone could see inside my head what’s going on when I act like that. It’s like an alter ego has escaped from prison and taken over my mouth. The real me is inside screaming, “Stop! You’re hurting them!”

Medication has helped slow me down in the past, but more recently, meditation has helped much more. The idea of “making space” for feelings and watching them pass by has helped me change from reacting to responding. A few weeks ago, I was able to walk away from something I knew would trigger me to react. I spent an hour alone, talked to my brother, wrote in a journal, and then came back to respond to the situation in a way that (hopefully) wouldn’t make everything worse.

This window closing tirade didn’t last long, so that was an improvement. I was able to slow and pause, think. And then beg for forgiveness.

How many times can a person forgive though?

Those are the kind of thoughts that trigger depression though. I had to stop again. I’m not a bad person. I’m not evil. I’m not mean. I’m doing the best I can and every day is an improvement.

The work continues

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